Brexit Brief: A Lot Happening, How Much is Changing?

Posted on 23rd January 2019

The times they aren’t a-changin’

A lot has happened but not much has changed in the last week. After the government predictably survived a no-confidence motion tabled by the opposition, Theresa May engaged in cross-party talks to find a way forward. Yet, with the prime minister’s refusal to budge on any of her red lines and the main opposition party — specifically Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — refusing to talk unless no deal is taken off the table, there was little left to discuss.

Take two

On Monday, May unveiled her Plan B for Brexit, better understood as Plan A revisited: to seek concessions on provisions relating to Northern Ireland (the so-called ‘backstop’) in order to win back the support of pro-Brexit Conservatives and her allies from the Democratic Unionist Party.  May cannot make any significant concessions without splitting her own party. Much like before, it is all about getting the EU to move to bring the rebels back on side but with the EU saying nothing more can be done. Sound familiar?

MPs in motion

On 29 January, May’s deal will once again be in the hands of Westminster as MPs vote on a series of amendments. They are likely to approve a bill forcing the PM to extend the Article 50 deadline if no deal is in place by 26 February. Some fear the delay – which can only be granted by unanimous consent of the EU-27 – could ignite parliament to push for a second referendum, while others believe war-gaming for a snap election is already under way. Meanwhile, Labour’s position is mixed: the party tabled an amendment to allow parliamentary time for a series of votes on alternative plans, including a second referendum, but remained uncommitted as to whether it would back another poll, with some Labour spokespeople threatening to resign if it does.

Feeling the heat

Amid concerns the cross-party grouping of MPs will impose a “softer” Brexit, or derail it altogether, there are faint signs that the DUP and some rebel MPs are softening to May’s deal, although Northern Ireland provisions remain toxic for most. Even this may not be enough to overturn the historic margin of the defeat of May’s deal.

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